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Train slams into box truck hauling batteries

Shawn Foucher • Aug 1, 2014 at 10:01 PM

A Garfield Heights man suffered little more than a head wound Friday morning when a train slammed into his box truck at the Vermilion Road railroad crossing.

The collision sent the truck's haul — a few dozen industrial truck batteries — showering across the road and the nearby gravel easement, prompting city officials to close down multiple railroad crossings as haz mat crews and the Ohio EPA descended on the scene. The truck driver — Jacob Koenig, 27 — was taken to an area hospital, where medical staff sutured his wound before sending him on his way just hours later, according to his co-workers and people at the crash scene.

Vermilion police refused to provide many details about the incident, as they were still gathering information late Friday, although they did confirm Koenig was the involved truck driver. Koenig was driving an International truck north on Vermilion Road when at about 11 a.m. the vehicle was a struck by an eastbound Norfolk & Southern train at the crossing near Bulan's Boatyard, police said.

It's unclear if the crossing gate was operational when the truck drove over the tracks, and Vermilion police would provide no information on the matter. At the crash site, however, a broken crossing gate was seen lying on the ground near the tracks. Given that the collision obliterated just about every battery in the truck, cleanup crews estimate upwards of 60 gallons of sulfuric acid spilled onto the ground.

The incident prompted the city to shut down railroad crossings at Vermilion Road, as well as Main, Adams and Grand streets.

The Vermilion Road crossing was expected to remain closed throughout Friday night. "Basically, every battery was broken on impact," said Linda Oros, an Ohio EPA spokeswoman. "There was half a gallon to a gallon (of acid) in each battery." Oros said the bulk of the cleanup was expected to wrap up by 9 p.m. Friday. Late in the afternoon, crews from Vermilon-based SpillTek Environmental Services were still loading broken batteries into large plastic drums. The crews were also gearing up to apply baking soda to the ground to help neutralize the acid, Oros said.

The train was rerouted to a nearby rail yard, where another haz mat crew cleaned any acid spatter off the engine and any train cars, Oros said. Koenig is a driver for Harris Battery in Cleveland, according to officials at the scene. Dave Pidgeon, a representative from Norfolk & Southern, told a reporter he would call back with any information on the incident, but by late evening he had not returned a call.

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